The nation’s attention remains glued to one part of the country from where citizens of India are being targeted by a handful of lumpens and are being forced to flee an Indian city for being ‘outsiders’. Meanwhile, in an unknown ‘safe house’ somewhere in the capital, a writer from another country who made India her country of residence since 2004 is being quietly but firmly cajoled to leave the country by the Government of India because of another handful of lumpens. The two situations may strike one as being totally different. In the case of north Indians being told to get out of ‘Marathi’ Mumbai by Raj Thackeray and his fellow goons, our outrage may be more palpable because of fellow Indians being victimised. In the case of Taslima Nasreen, it’s a sometimes-bothersome-for-some Bangladeshi writer whose desire to stay on in India is being made increasingly difficult by an Indian government looking for an easy way out. But in both cases, it’s the notion of the ‘outsider’ that gives the licence for most people who should be appalled by the treatment meted out to Mumbai’s ‘North Indians’ and Ms Nasreen to keep quiet.
For both sets of victims, theorising about what constitutes ‘belonging’ doesn’t matter. Even the statistics of 30-40 per cent of Mumbaikars coming from north India doesn’t underline forcefully enough the idea of the migrant finding ‘home’ in a place away from where he or she left — by choice or otherwise. In this context, geographical entities are superfluous. A Marathi’s sense of belonging can be as strong in Lucknow as a Bangladeshi’s can be in Kolkata. Since 2004, Ms Nasreen has been renewing her resident permit every six months. (She first came as an exile to India in 2000 after living in Europe after being forced to leave Bangladesh in 1994.) In November 2007, a proverbial bunch of loudmouths in Kolkata went on the streets rampaging and protesting against what they called the writer’s ‘blasphemous’ prose. Soon, Ms Nasreen removed the offending passage, hoping that the act would be atonement enough. That was not to be, as a few fanatics wanted her out of the country — or worse. And the West Bengal government complied by shuttling her out of Kolkata.
It is up to the Government of India, that will hopefully renew Ms Nasreen’s resident status before Sunday, February 17 (the date on which it expires), to send out the message as to which side it is on. Otherwise one would start thinking that the government tacitly agrees with Raj Thackeray that people should stay rooted to the spot on which they were born till they die.